Archive for the 'Victoria and Albert' Category

Art in London

A while back, I took a trip to London in order to look at paintings and sculptures. As I did on my trip to Paris, I made notes of my tours of the British Museum, Victoria and Albert, National Gallery, and the Tates and these posts are based on those notes. I’m pretty much uneducated in art matters, so the result is a sort of reconstructed memory of my effort to educate myself. Here’s a list of the posts minus the romances, little scenes which I attached to certain Modernist paintings:

(1) Meeting Old Friends in the British Museum
(2) The Arrogant Spectator
(3) The Elgin Marbles
(4) The Mona Lisa of the British Museum
(5) Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
(6) Gods Are Dead and I Feel Fine
(7) Sunshine Horrorshow
(8) Shape and Texture
(9) How Good Can You Get?
(10) Whaam!
(11) Just Express Your Feelings
(12) Explosive Decompression
(13) Who Owns Andy Warhol?
(14) A Flange of Venuses
(15) It Was Ever Thus
(16) It Was Ever Tush
(17) Allez, vivants, luttez, pauvres futurs squelettes
(18) The Hapsburg Jaw
(19) J’en ai assez de ces putains de serpents!
(20) Paint Orgasm
(21) Cartoon Saints
(22) Off with His Head Already!
(23) Virgins and Their Children
(24) Past the Wit of Man
(25) And After the World Exploded
(26) Paint / Glass / Rage
(27) Messianic Complexes
(28) A Sight I Didn’t See
(29) Hodge-Podge
(30) Bernini Clinical
(31) Truth and/or Reality

There’s a tendency for these to get more bizarre as the paintings become more abstract and hence have less to say. That could also be taken as an issue with editing and quality control, but this is an internet blog and both of those terms are, after all, the very opposites of quality control. Therefore, don’t expect carefully constructed essays with each post. You might call them “impressions” if you have to call them something.

Bernini Clinical

Bernini‘s Neptune and Triton was originally situated outside a Roman villa where you could see and hear water, birds singing, insects, people, the lot. Now it stands in a rather dull hall in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s not a bad room, really, and there are more than enough masterful sculptures to make it a great place to visit, but the fact that it is so bare just makes it clear how incredible it would be to see the swirl of that fabric made in marble glisten in the sunlight as fountains around it shoot water through the air. It is bare and makes it possible to examine every statue in detail, but one can only think that this is not the way Bernini’s incredible work was meant to be seen.

Source: Wikipedia

Because it wasn’t. It needs the trees, the birds, the fountains, the people around it talking inanely and flaneurs trying to look cool, lovers lying to each other, children crying, dogs barking, the sun setting and rising, etc. You get the picture. It needs life around it. Otherwise, it’s just a lonely block of stone.

Cartoon Saints

There is a lot to see in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Not only is it a place where a good portion of the stuff the British looted around the world at the height of their empire is stored, it also has a design streak, including clothing. The exhibition of modern clothes was a bit disappointing, though. There have been many little tweaks in men’s fashion since Edwardian times, but the few examples they have do not make for spectacular viewing precisely because these little tweaks are more interesting in writing or pressed against your own skin than looked at in a glass box. The older, more extravagant costumes were peppered around the museum and they were striking enough, but obviously cloth that has aged for a few hundred years is not in its peak form anymore. Women’s fashion is another thing. It changes more rapidly and the costumes are more varied, but I find it too whimsical to understand. This summer, they have had an exhibition called The Story of The Supremes that has many costumes worn by that group and it might have been interesting enough, but after a few minutes in the blaring Motown music — it seems like everything has to have a soundtrack these days — I had to make my escape.

I ended up in an incredible room that was almost deserted. High ceilings, dim lighting, a few benches, and enormous, fantastic tapestries on the wall. The Raphael Cartoons, portraying scenes from the lives of St Peter and St Paul, rivaled the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in their time and should be as famous and admired as Michelangelo’s great work is, but here they hung, deserted, it seemed, in this exquisite room. They are big, about 3X5 and 3X3 meters, and they were designed to be templates for tapestries that would be woven according to their design, but they are also works of art in themselves. It is interesting to note that Poussin was impressed with them and borrowed stuff from these sketches; they are sketches in the end, however fantastic. And they are also what the Pre-Raphaelites thought represented the corruption of painting through classical formalism.

Enough talk. Here’s what they look like:

Source: Wikipedia

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Source: Wikipedia

St Paul Preaching in Athens

Source: Wikipedia

Christ’s Charge to Peter

Source: Wikipedia

The Death of Ananias

Source: Wikipedia

The Healing of the Lame Man

Source: Wikipedia

The Conversion of the Proconsul

Source: Wikipedia

The Sacrifice at Lystra
Not only are these perhaps the most influential pieces of High Renaissance painting, they also have a very interesting history after their original purpose was fulfilled. They were completed in 1516 and in 1623 they were bought by none other than Charles I, the famous headless King of England. He paid only 300 pounds for them, because they were, after all, only templates for tapestries. I don’t know if anyone knew then that they were to become absolutely priceless in a little while. Three of them are missing, so there’s even that bit of mystery. During and after the reign William III the cartoons took their proper place as works of art and they had a couple of rooms built especially for them, including the one at the V&A. Somewhere along the line, they created Classicism and gave the Renaissance ideal a new twist, and afterwards they acted as something Modernists could define themselves against. Not bad for a bunch of sketches.